Part Five On Cohabitation: Absent Fathers and the Cohabiting Craze

by | Sep 3, 2009

Dr. Wall continues his series on Cohabitation by exploring his theory that absent fathers, primarily from divorce, have contributed to the proliferation of cohabiting unmarried couples.

He suggests that young men, without everyday intact fathers, struggle with immaturity and young women, without everyday intact fathers, struggle with being loved by a male. Both seek to meet these needs by cohabiting without marriage.  For the entire series on Cohabitation click here.  For the first in the series click here.

Grandchildren are the crown of old men,

And the glory of sons is their fathers.

Proverbs 17:6

You know, after you’ve talked with hundreds of cohabiting couples, you come up with a few observations. I’ve connected some dots here and there. I have some hunches about unmarried cohabiting couples (see my other thoughts about cohabiting couples in the four previous blogs on this subject: Cavalier About Marriage, The Downsides of Cohabiting Without Marriage, Cohabiting and Impatience, and Marriage, Money and Cohabiting). There are probably a hundred reasons why young people cohabit (the availability of birth control and abortion, the high cost of living, the emphasis in our society on career development before marriage and the late age of marriage, which is now around age 26, and the deterioration of the Judeo-Christian ethic, to name a few). For the purposes of this blog I’d just like to narrow it down to one.My hunch is this: Young men and women who cohabit with each other have a high incidence of growing up with an absent father, whether from divorce or their fathers living at home, but being distant.

It’s easy to take pot shots at dads in our society because they’ve been relegated to the role of being virtually worthless. Women are divorcing their husbands, thinking that their respective children will be fine if they only see their dads, oh, say 8 days a month.Yeah, that will do it.A woman, with this frame of mind, will be tempted to think that her sons and daughters don’t really need their birth fathers, just a man and any man she happens to fall in love with will do, so she marries some other dude with even less fortitude than the last one, but at least the last one actually LOVED her kids.This one, at best, thinks her kids are a nuisance and, at worst, thinks they are all psychos.

We used to tell mother-in-law jokes. Now, the dregs of society are the divorced father, who never sees his kids or never pays his child support, or the dad who’s never home and always working or always drinking. What a bum. Of course, if you are a divorced dad you know how difficult it is to fulfill the role of father when divorced because fatherhood is meant to be a full-time job and if you are divorced you can’t be a full-time dad. You’ve been fired. Most kids live with mom after divorce. Dads’ a sideshow, reduced to taking them to Chuck E. Cheese’s on weekends. Every other weekend at that. This is what dads do? For crying out loud. It’s just sad.

And don’t tell me divorce doesn’t affect the kids and your divorce decree is fair and the kids spend 50% of the time with mom and 50% of the time with dad. Kids need a mom and dad 100% of the time. What’s fair about living in two houses, never having roots and being a nomad? What’s fair about never being settled? What’s fair about two sets of rules? And if both mom and dad marry some other blankety-blank, now we’ve got 4 sets of rules and everyone’s tugging at my loyalties and I’d just like to forget the whole bunch. What’s fair about that? Divorce isn’t fair. And what’s normal about being a parent, a mom or dad and having every 3 or 4 days completely to yourself and then 3 days later there’s kids again? How long before you do that and you become completely undone? What’s so fair about that? Motherhood and fatherhood are supposed to be full-time jobs.

Kids need a mom and dad. No, not two dads or two moms. That’s just creepy (Please see my other articles on this subject: here, here and here). Kids need a mom who says, “You poor dear. Come here, let me take care of that.” Kids need a dad that chides. Goads. Spurs on. Challenges. How can you ever grow to be a man or a woman if you don’t have a dad standing there with his arms folded at the appropriate time with a scowl on his face and says to you that what you just did isn’t gonna cut it and you’re not gonna make it if you live like that? Come on, you know you can do better. Enough of that already. I expect more of you. Some kids rebel, perhaps, some not. But every kid wants to please his dad. Every kid wants the approval of his father. I didn’t just make this up. Three thousand years ago King Solomon wrote:

Listen to your father, who gave you life.

Proverbs 23:24

My son, keep you father’s commands.

Proverbs 6:20

But the verse that really is a kicker on this deal is the one at the beginning of this blog. Look at it again:

Grandchildren are the crown of old men,

And the glory of sons is their fathers.

Proverbs 17:6

The glory of sons is their fathers. Wow. Talk about responsibility. Talk about a sense of purpose and pride. We all WANT to respect our fathers. It’s a very comforting thing to have a father you can look up to. The verse above talks about sons and fathers, but you can bet, given the writer of Proverbs’ penchant for keeping things concise, (see my earlier blog on the use of “sons” in Proverbs), that daughters are included.

It’s difficult to respect a dad if he isn’t around, whether by choice (he’s a drunk, he plays pool or golfs all the time or is gone for work or church!) or circumstance (fired from fatherhood by a divorce decree).If he’s not around enough neither gender is going to understand his abruptness.He’s to the point.He takes the direct approach.He doesn’t hold your hand.He says go do it.Don’t let the world push you around.Make your mark.But this is all interpreted as intrusive, invasive, insensitive, sarcastic, mean, even abusive.Why?There’s not a daily relationship there.These kids don’t understand nor know their dads.So they write them off.Reject them. Scoff at them.It it any wonder these dads withdraw and rarely come around.I’ll just leave them to the wolves.I guess they’ll have to learn the hard way.So what happens to these girls and boys with no dads?

Another related hunch I have, is that children get a larger share of their identity from their mothers in their early years, say before age ten, and during their teen years get the lion’s share of their identity from their fathers. Absent the father from a teenage boy and the boy will struggle with immaturity because he doesn’t have a dad to kick his butt once in awhile (Relax. I mean, you know, “challenge” him.). Boys need to be exhorted, urged. This God-given adoration of boys for their fathers is used by the wise father as a way to train up his son in the ways of life: To teach his son honor and honesty and hanging in there and not giving up, to “Man-up,” bear responsibility, do it with pride, develop your gifts, be a blessing to the world, sense God’s hand on you shoulder. Only a dad can do this. Did you hear me? ONLY a dad.

The daughters without dads will wonder if they are lovable to the opposite sex: You know, males.Mothers can’t teach that to their daughters.Only a dad, who is there, at home, every night, who goes up to his daughter and tells her he missed her and how is she doing and what’s new and he loves her and he hugs her and he says he’s proud of her and you go girl and you can do it and I know it sucks, but I know you can solve this deal. Only a dad can fulfill that role.If dad isn’t home, if dad doesn’t hug me, if dad doesn’t talk to me, if dad doesn’t believe in me, if dad doesn’t give me advice and actually SHOW me how to do stuff (Be sure and check the oil when you fill up with gas.Here’s how to do it.), then, ah, there must be a boy out there who will.

And we’ve created the perfect storm: Immature boys very willing and able to cohabit without marriage to unloved girls very willing to cohabit without commitment and needing to be loved. Neither of them had a dad who showed much commitment to them. Neither learned respect of men or what it means to be a respectable man (ah, you know, someone you can rely on…..always). Commitment is in short supply all the way around.

So then we get these two young people together without the commitment of marriage and what do we get?

Stay tuned. My next blog will explore this dynamic.

Dr. Bing Wall

Dr. Bing Wall

Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.

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